Retaining Clients: It Takes More Than You Think

By Kirk Squiers, owner of Central Michigan Graphics in Lansing. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

With the proliferation of the Internet, the bad economy has made customers more price conscious. As a result, relationships and service have become the most important aspect of client retention. As the owner of a printing and sign company, I see the World Wide Web cutting into my business weekly. Just last week a customer said,” I can buy 500 business cards on the Internet for $10!” That’s great, but how does that help the Michigan economy?

Staying close to customers should be a number one priority in these rough times. Regular visits to your top ten clients and constant contact through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is crucial to maintain top of mind awareness. One of the many ways that my small company stays close to our clients is through our Facebook page. Every time we do a new project, we take photos of it and put it on our home page. The comments we get are amazing; not to mention that it’s like the old adage of tell two people and they will tell two people and so on. A great aspect of social media for small businesses is that it allows you to reach a large group of people with minimal time and resources.

Another great vehicle for communicating with customers is through YouTube. My company has a full video presentation of a time lapse installation on a vehicle wrap on YouTube. And the best part is – YouTube is free!

As a small business owner, your day is filled wearing multiple hats. Social media helps you reduce time spent on marketing, sales and client retention. Facebook, Twitter and blogs are great ways to keep in contact throughout the year. Start using all the free services available on the Internet and you will see client retention surge. Customer loyalty cannot be bought, it must be earned!

Here’s some strategies that have worked for us:
  • Customer communication – be sure to keep in communication with your client base. Send them small thank you notes, birthday e-mails and company newsletters. Make sure you focus on the customer over your company and foremost, do what you say you will do! The recession presents some unique challenges to customer retention management. But the current climate also provides opportunity for small businesses that know how and when to act.
  • Listen for needs and wants. Figure out how can you make the customers life easier. Diversify your product line. We were once just a printer. Now we offer signs, banners and vehicle graphics. Find a niche that you can easily piggyback onto your current offerings.
  • As a current board member of SBAM, you will hear us talk about economic gardening in terms of nurturing relationships with successful businesses already here in Michigan. As a small business owner I am constantly cultivating and gardening my current client base. It is like taking care of a garden. Water and feed the customer with things you provide to help their business flourish. Weed out your competition consistently by paying attention to details and following through.
  • And here is the kicker. If you can’t do something, admit it! Your customers will respect your honesty. 

As we move into the next few years, Michigan-based small businesses will continue to face tough times economically. Continue to seek new business and spend even more time and energy with your top ten accounts. Make it a personal goal to speak in person or on the phone directly with the decision maker of each of those top ten clients at least once a month. You can surely make enough time to call or stop by three places a week. This will lock out your competition and reaffirm your concern for the business relationship. If you do the little things that create the “Wow” factor and y

Award Nominations are Now Being Accepted Through Nov. 12 for the 7th Annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business Event

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2011 Michigan Celebrates Small Business awards program, a prestigious annual competition that recognizes successful small businesses and their supporters. The winners will be honored at the 7th annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business event on April 28, 2011. Last year, over 800 people attended the state’s premier awards program to honor the awardees.

Award categories for business owners include the Small Business Person of the Year, Family-Owned Business, Young Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurial Success, and Small Business Exporter. Champion of the year awards include Financial Services, Home-Based Business, Minority Small Business, Veteran Small Business, Woman in Business, Small Business Counselor, and Small Business Journalist. Also included are awards for Innovation, Main Street USA Best Small Business, and Government Contracting. Nominations for these awards will be accepted through November 12 at

The Michigan 50 Companies to Watch will also be honored at the event. Sponsored by the Edward Lowe Foundation, the program recognizes the contributions, innovations and energy of diverse second-stage companies. Nominations can originate from attorneys, bankers, accountants, small business organizations, economic development agencies, or other services providers. Companies may self-nominate as well. Nominations are due November 12 and nominees will receive an e-mail with instructions to complete an online application by December 3.

Michigan Celebrates Small Business is a partnership of the Small Business Association of Michigan, Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Edward Lowe Foundation and the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

Michigan Celebrates Small Business is made possible with the generous support of PNC Bank, Clark Hill, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Certified Development Corporation, Accident Fund, Comcast Business Class, Comcast Spotlight and Dynamic Edge, Inc.

SBAM Tops 10,000 Statewide Members

Rob Fowler interviewed by WILX-TV10The Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) today at its Lansing headquarters celebrated surpassing 10,000 members. It’s an all-time membership high for the statewide organization and represents a doubling of membership in less than two years.

(at left, Fowler is interviewed today by WILX-TV10)

“Our staff and volunteer leaders have worked very hard to have develop innovative products and services that meet the needs of small business owners in this tough economy,” says SBAM’s President and CEO Rob Fowler. “Small business owners have responded by joining our cause in record numbers. We appreciate their ongoing support for our efforts to promote entrepreneurship, leverage buying power and engage in political advocacy.”

This spring, a survey conducted by Denno Noor Research for The Rossman Group and The Perricone Group found that in the minds of southeast Michigan votes, SBAM is the most trusted business organization to help improve Michigan‘s economy. “Small business owners in southeast Michigan and all across the state have shown with their dues dollars that they trust SBAM to help propel a new economic direction for Michigan,” says Fowler.

Information on joining SBAM can be found here.

Hungry for Market Research? FREE Resources Abound

By Nicolette Warisse Sosulski, MLIS

(From Focus on Small Business, the Small Business Association of Michigan’s member-only magazine.)

As a prospective entrepreneur, or the owner of a small or growth-stage business, market research may be the last thing that your budget can cover at the moment. However the data that you seek may be the difference or the edge between you and success or failure. Since firms are trying to sell you market reports or mailing lists from the time you get your DBA (“doing business as…”), the question may boil down to whether or not the information that you want needs to be purchased. As a business librarian, I get dozens of requests of this nature, so I will share some of my top resources in business research, either those that are free on the Internet or often available onsite or remotely from libraries.

List Directories

Sometimes you need lists — people in a particular industry who could be customers or markets or suppliers or competitors, or people already in business in your fi eld. For this purpose, the tool I value most is a database called ReferenceUSA, published by InfoUSA. It contains directory information from every phone directory in the United States, but contains far more from other conduits of company executive information, company income, and financials. There is also a residential component, so if you know your ideal customer makes $75,000 to $100,000 per year and lives in a house in a neighborhood with a value range of $200,000 to $225,000, you can search for neighborhoods with that demographic.
Search results can be saved and downloaded into Excel so that you can further manipulate the data within. ReferenceUSA is a subscription source, purchased by libraries for access by their patrons in the library or remotely using their library cards. It is not cheap, so many libraries do not have it, but it is worth asking your library if yours has it, or perhaps making a road trip to a library that does. Ask your librarian what types of company directory sources the library owns.

Professional Associations

These can be a goldmine of information. You can identify them by Googling a particular industry sector with the word “association,” or you can find them in library sources like The Encyclopedia of Associations or association directories, both online or in print to which your library subscribes. You may not think you want to join anything, so why would this be useful? The members of an association are deeply invested in their sector of the American industry landscape. They may commission studies, reports being made available to their members, of trends in an industry such as the growth of the green cleaning sector market share in the household cleaners industry, reports that could cost a lot from a market analyst. They have newsletters or websites with membership lists. I have found specialty niche sales professionals for a manufacturing company this way. Lastly, as I tell my patrons, all of us want to keep cold foods cold. However, if I am an ice cream truck vendor, I need information about the kind of high performance mobile cold storage that is not going to be found in Consumer Reports. Ads and evaluations of this type of equipment will appear in a publication dedicated to this industry. You may decide to join the association or you may just look at their web page. You should feel free to contact associations to see what kinds of reports and studies they make available to their members.

Article Databases and the MeL Business and Jobs Gateway

You are lucky. You are in Michigan. The libraries of your state have banded together to purchase databases — collections of online articles from professional and industry journals — and have made them available to every possessor of a Michigan drivers license or Michiga

Weekly Legislative Round-Up

President Signs Small Business Jobs Act

1099 Reporting Requirement Update

President Signs Small Business Jobs Act

This past Monday President Obama signed into law the Small Business Jobs Act. The bill contains a number of provisions that will assist small businesses in these difficult economic times.  SBAM and our national affiliate the National Small Business Association have fought for a many of these provisions over the past several months and in some cases years.  

The major provisions of the bill are outlined below.

Health Insurance Affordability

For 2010, self-employed individuals will be allowed to fully deduct the cost of their health insurance from their self-employment taxes for 2010. Currently, self-employed individuals are prohibited from fully deducting the cost of their health insurance from their self-employment taxes, resulting in an additional 15.3 percent tax that no other worker or business owner is forced to pay.
Access to Capital
Small Business Lending Fund – The law creates a $30 billion lending fund for small- and medium-sized banks with strong incentives for them to increase their small-business lending. This is NOT TARP 2.0 – it is a program for strong community banks that pass a stress test and includes meaningful incentives to increase small-business lending.
State Small Business Credit Initiative Program – Funding is set-aside to help states leverage an estimated $15 billion in new lending by strengthening state small-business programs.
SBA Stimulus Provisions – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) lending provisions originally passed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are extended through 2010. Specifically, the law extends the 90 percent guarantee on 7(a) loans and the elimination of the borrower fees on both 7(a) and 504 loans—both which expired at the end of May.
SBA Loan Limits – Limits on various SBA-backed loans will increase:  7(a) loans from $2 million to $5 million; 504 loans from $1.5 million to $5.5 million; and microloans from $35,000 to $50,000.
Tax Incentives
Capital Gains – For the remainder of 2010, all capital gains taxes on investments in small businesses are eliminated provided the investment is held for five years.
Section 179 Expensing – For 2010 and 2011, Sec. 179 expensing is increased to $500,000—doubling the current limit. This provision also raises the phase-out threshold to $2 million, up from $800,000.
Bonus Depreciation – The law restores through 2010 the 50 percent allowable depreciation on capital investments.
Cell Phone Deduction – The law simplifies the rules to deduct the use of cell phones for business purposes beginning in 2010.
Start-up Expenses
– The amount of start-up costs allowable to deduct is increased in 2010 from $5,000 to $10,000 with a phase-out threshold of $60,000 in expenditures.
Limits on Small Business Tax Penalties – Beginning in 2010, this law will change the penalty for failing to report certain tax transactions from a fixed dollar amount to a percentage of the tax benefits from the transaction, easing the disproportionate burden on small businesses.
Regulatory Fairness
The bill includes an enhancement of the SBA Office of Ad

Million dollar Michigan business plan competition now open

logoThe Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is an international business plan competition designed to highlight Michigan as a robust and vibrant venue for innovation and business opportunity. The competition will fuel innovation-based business growth by uncovering the best and brightest new business concepts from local and global entrepreneurs, exposing those opportunities to potential investment capital and fostering their growth within Michigan. The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition targets mid-to-late seed-stage businesses with potential to generate an immediate impact on Michigan’s economy, as well as student concepts with longer-term business viability. With more than $1 million in cash winnings, plus in-kind awards of services, staffing and software, the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is the world’s largest business plan competition.

The competition is led by the newly formed Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan (composed of four of the region’s key business accelerators: Ann Arbor SPARK, Automation Alley, Macomb-OU INCubator, and TechTown), the New Economy Initiative, Business Leaders for Michigan, and the University Research Corridor (Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University). These groups have aligned their efforts to bolster and advance Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through a variety of collaborative initiatives, including the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The mission is focused on job creation, increased capital and statewide economic and resource development.

Competition Details

The competition kicked off on August 24, 2010, and will culminate with a gala Award Brunch in Ann Arbor, Michigan on December 11, 2010. The event concludes with the University of Michigan vs. Michigan State University “Big Chill” hockey game at Michigan stadium. The day includes a pre-game Award brunch for all judges and participants. All information pertaining to the competition, including applications and eligibility criteria is located on the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition website